Oct 302012
 

I had a chance to play with the new $250 11.6″ Samsung XE303C12-A01US Chromebook and I am finally ready to consider buying or recommending it to certain users. Up until now, whenever a new model was out, a quick glimpse over its specs and comparison with similarly priced laptops would make me laugh and instantly erase it from my mental wishlist. This time I finally see an attractive price and a good looking ultraportable that makes me want to take it to Starbucks, or to my overseas trips, or even to use it at work as a Citrix terminal if the free Citrix Receiver add-on I just saw in Chrome Web Store works well in my further testing.

This polished Sammy seems to be great for those willing to sacrifice some speed and functionality for a lot of portability and life in the cloud with the free two years of 100 GB cloud space that come with this model.  Moreover, I find its anti-glare screen very attractive, but on the other hand, some annoyances are making me think twice. Before we go there, let’s first see what’s “under the hood”.

Specs:

  • 11.6″ HD matte screen (standard 1366 x 768 resolution of most contemporary laptops from 11.6″ up to 15.6″)
  • 1.7 GHz dual core Samsung Exynos 5 (ARM) processor
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 16 GB SSD
  • USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n (both 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi radio)
  • 0.7″ (18 mm) thin
  • 2.42 lbs (1.1 kg)
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • Built-in microphone
  • Mic/Headset combo jack
  • 0.3 Megapixel webcam (= VGA= 640 x 480 resolution)
  • Up to 6.5 hours battery time
  • Priced at $249, which means it may be available for less during the upcoming holidays :-)

Pros:

  • Awesome matte screen, viewable in bright light. This is what the Mac Air is missing to get closer to perfection. You gotta love Samsung and their growing list of laptops with anti-glare screens which, unlike on the higher end MacBook Pros, come at no extra charge.
  • Free two years of 100 GB cloud storage space on Google Drive
  • Ultra-portable, small footprint
  • HDMI port (no adapter needed like in previous models)
  • USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports
  • Combined headphones/microphone jack that fits most Android and iPhone headsets with built-in microphone
  • SSD and no cooling fan means absolute silence (unless you forget to mute the speakers, so no, it’s still not okay to use this in church, in court, or during a wedding or eulogy speech)
  • Dual band WiFi (so you can connect to 5 GHz radio, great in overcrowded areas)
  • A Citrix receiver add-on available for Chrome (only on Chromebooks) could make this machine a great Citrix terminal at work (with keyboard, mouse and connected to a bigger monitor via HDMI) or excellent companion for light travel. That way you may be able to run all apps in your work Citrix environment, what can also include MS Office, Quickbooks and other otherwise unavailable apps.
  • Includes 12 free sessions of Gogo Inflight Internet (airborne internet)

Cons:

  • No delete button (backspace only), a BIG handicap for all of us who frequently use the alternative keyboard cut and paste shortcut (Shift+Del to cut and Shift+Ins to paste). I recently returned an ASUS laptop because of a similar keyboard design problem.
  • Low speed (smartphone and tablet class) processor
  • No Skype compatibility, which means its video chat is limited to Google Talk and Google Hangouts
  • Chiclet keyboard, most likely bad for long typing sessions.  I didn’t spend much time typing on it, but I definitely hate chiclet keyboards.
  • No touchscreen (not that I expected it at this affordable price)
  • No VGA port – a handicap with older monitors and especially projectors.
  • Can’t run Adobe Photoshop (not that I would on such a slow unit), MS Office (but Google Docs can be used to edit Office documents), QuickBooks or similar standalone software PC programs.

Just like the Apple/Mac/iPad/iPhone (maps excluded, to rub the salt into the wound of Apple fanboys), or the Amazon/Kindle/Kindle Fire have their own giant’s shoulders to stand on, this device similarly fits into the Google/Google Apps/Chrome/Android Tablet/Phone family as the tip of the iceberg, taking advantage of its ecosystem.

Priced only fifty bucks above the Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7, which although some of the best Android tablets, still have only a 7″ screen and the surface area of about one half of a 10″ tablet.   This is most likely why Apple never considered going with a smaller tablet before Steve Jobs died, and although this is pure speculation, I can imagine him saying “over my dead body” about a smaller iPad.

Nexus 7 vs New Chromebook Screen Area Comparison

From my monitor screen area math post we get that the screen area of the new Chromebook’s 11.6″ screen at 16 x 9 ratio is 11.6² * 0.427, or roughly 57.5 square inches.

A 7″ tablet screen area using the same formula is 7² * 0.427, what gets you only close to 21 square inches, so with cashing out fifty buckaroos more for this Chromebook instead of a good 7″ tablet you are gaining close to triple the screen surface, AND a keyboard, and HDMI, and USB ports and a slick looking little machine and a desktop browser where you can be more dangerous and much faster with desktop browsing and authoring.

Considering all the options Google had available, I can’t avoid the following thoughts:  Since they chose to use the ARM processor with this new generation Chromebook, I wonder why they didn’t make it capable of running Android and/or Android apps. The number of apps in Google Play (formerly known as the Android apps store) is astonishing, while the number of Chrome apps is way, way lower than that. If Chromebook can’t run Android apps, then why choose the ARM instead of a faster Intel? It seems Google needs another sip of getting the act together, unless there is some major OS rework already taking place behind the scenes, getting the two platforms closer to each other and aiming to enable cross-platform compatibility on all these devices with very similar processors.  Google management has previously mentioned that integrating these two OS’s would be a natural progression. The more I think about this, the more likely this future development looks to me, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some future OS upgrades do some of this magic and bring these two platforms together. With “Androchrome” in place, Google would have the best pound for pound combo that could beat Apple, Amazon and Microsoft in no time.  This way, they have a cute little device at a great price.

So hear me Google, keep the price down, get a better keyboard and combine Chrome and Android apps/OS and you’ll rule.  Having said that, I still like this critter. So will I “almost” buy it?  Possibly, if I can get over the lack of the delete key, if the price goes down during the holidays and even more likely if my Citrix tests go well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryjinal Mary H Johnson

    VGA Output: I used a Samsung Chromebook during some volunteering before the November elections and had the same issue with VGA. On the model I used (sorry, wasn’t paying attention to specific model) there was a VGA dongle that plugged in to a port on the side. I guess not building in the VGA connector gave them a slimmer case.

  • mythous

    I bought a Samsung Chromebook about a month and a half ago. Honestly, just to play with. Wanted a Macbook Air, but figured I’d wait for the refresh in the middle of the year. Anyway… LOVE the Chromebook. Small, LIGHT! and the best trackpad I’ve seen on anything besides an Apple product. Funny, my $250 Chromebook has a much better trackpad than my four times as expensive Dell laptop. The battery life is decent too, the screen is ok, and the instantanious wake on opening is fantastic. It also immediately grabs wifi on opening.

    Funny, I can FINALLY afford any computer I want, and my go to mobile solution is usually a $250 Chromebook